Hillary F. Huber, Ph.D.

Staff Scientist I Dr. Peter Nathanielsz's Lab | Population Health, Staff, Southwest National Primate Research Center

Research Focus

Hillary F. Huber, Ph.D., is a primatologist specializing in baboon diet and behavior.

Dr. Huber conducts translational studies of baboons investigating how early experiences influence behavioral, cognitive and motor development during the aging process. Her aims are to improve quality of life for humans and nonhuman primates with noninvasive studies of baboons.

Dr. Huber has worked with the Texas Pregnancy and Life-course Health Center (TPLH) at SNPRC since 2014. TPLH studies developmental programming, which is the concept that challenges during critical phases of development have lifelong health effects. This research is an essential contribution to understanding why some children and adults are predisposed to behavioral disorders, metabolic syndrome, neurological disease, sarcopenia, and many other outcomes. Early identification of individuals at risk of later disease will change the way we prevent and treat aging, with personalized early intervention approaches.

Dr. Huber received her Ph.D. in Anthropology from Southern Illinois University in 2014 and has worked with baboons since 2011.


Inside the Lab

TPLH focuses on how maternal diet during pregnancy and lactation affects offspring development, programming changes to physiology with long-lasting effects on aging. We are funded by a NIA U19, Womb to Tomb: Developmental programming and aging interactions in primates. The overall goal of the U19 is to evaluate mechanisms in developmental programming-aging interactions in a well characterized baboon (Papio sp.) model, including hippocampal-hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HHPA) activity, brain structure and function, cognition and behavior, cardiovascular outcomes, and metabolism. Developmental programming can be defined as responses to challenges in critical developmental time windows that alter development and life course phenotype. We assert that the antecedents of aging originate in the earliest stages of life.

Dr. Peter Nathanielsz, Director of TPLH, assembled a colony of male and female baboons across the life-course with different developmental experiences, a unique and precious scientific resource for defining the mechanisms involved in the aging process. Our findings indicate that early life experiences predispose some individuals to increased adiposity, metabolic dysregulation, increased aggressive behavior, increased cortisol, altered cardiovascular function, impaired cognition and much more. In other words, risk of age-related disease and accelerated aging results from early developmental experiences that influence physiology for the rest of life. Understanding the mechanisms responsible is essential for designing anti-aging interventions.

Main Technologies and Methods Used

  • Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB) for monkeys
  • Measurement of walking speed
  • The Observer XT by Noldus, behavioral recording software
  • Morphometrics